Janine Gard is a diploma-qualified birth educator (2005) and founder of Bellies to Babies antenatal and postnatal classes. She has helped more then 3700 parents prepare themselves mentally, emotionally and physically for their journey to parenthood and loves what she does. This week she talks about the struggles of becoming a dad.
Becoming a new dad is a life-changing event. Even when change is positive, it can still be challenging. Having mixed and complex emotions as an expectant or new dad is completely normal, but these can be confronting emotions to manage. Along with feelings of joy, excitement and pride, the experience of pregnancy and birth can be accompanied by feelings of apprehension, anxiety and exhaustion.
Most people know that depression and anxiety during pregnancy and early parenthood can affect mothers, but it's important to remember that partners are at risk as well. Depression affects one in 10 women during pregnancy, and one in six of all new mums. Depression affects one in 10 dads between the first trimester and the year after the baby's birth.
The support they might need can be in relation to sleep deprivation, financial worries, a change in responsibilities or changes in relationship dynamics. For both parents, the arrival of a new baby brings with it enormous life changes and adjustments. Fathers may experience feelings of guilt knowing what their partner is going through, knowing that it is not him who is breastfeeding at 4am or recovering from labour and birth.
Symptoms of postnatal anxiety and depression can look different for each dad. These are some of the common signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression in expectant and new dads.
● Constant tiredness or exhaustion
● High physical stress levels including headaches, muscle tension
● Loss of interest in things you usually enjoy (eg, work, relationships, downtime)
● Appetite changes
● Sleep problems (unrelated to baby's sleep)
● Changes in sex drive and desire for intimacy
● Irritability, anger, resentment, frustration, moodiness
● Fear of looking after your baby, or avoiding caring for them
● Feeling rejected by your partner as they focus on caring for baby
● Emotional withdrawal from your partner, baby, family, friends
● Not wanting to communicate with your loved ones
● Feeling isolated and lonely
● Using alcohol or drugs to "escape" or cope
● Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
If you're not feeling yourself, it's important to know that you don't have to suck it up.
Looking after yourself
● Talk to friends or workmates who've recently become parents. You'd be surprised how much more you have in common
● Be adaptive to new challenges. When you become a dad, a lot is going to change and you will run into new challenges on a daily basis. This is okay. No one is completely prepared for their first child and it's normal to feel overwhelmed or confused at times. You aren't expected to know everything right away, but when you run into issues make sure to ask questions and reach out to other family members, or your doctor for advice.
● Remember, that this is a period of growth, not only for your baby, but for you as well.
● Plan your schedule together. Much of your schedule is now going to revolve around your baby's needs, so you need to be flexible with it. You may have less time to engage in personal hobbies right now, but you will be able to pursue more of them again when your child is more independent.
● Work with your partner to create a plan to take care of your child and divide up tasks so neither of you feels too overwhelmed.
● Be aware of your own health and wellbeing. Make sure you exercise, relax and set aside time for yourself.
● Keep your relationship on track - just because you have a baby doesn't mean the romantic side of your relationship is over. Make sure to continue connecting with your partner and go out when you can. Going out for walks in nature with your partner and/or your baby can be a great way to get some physical activity and fresh air. Set aside time to be together one-on-one and keep doing the activities you enjoyed before becoming parents, as much as it's realistically possible.
● Prioritise regular check-ins with your partner. Having a new baby can be a lot to manage, and your attention will naturally be drawn to caring for the baby. But working together and ensuring that you both feel supported makes it easier to cope with these new challenges, and enhances your connection as a couple.
● Don't expect to be able to make everything perfect. You can't always fix everything that goes wrong.
● Let your employer and workmates know if you're not getting much sleep. Try to arrange your work hours to suit family life.
● Find someone you can talk to honestly about your feelings and how your new role is affecting you – this may be your partner, a friend, a family member or a counsellor.
● Have a check-up with your GP in the year after your baby's birth. If you're feeling tired, cranky and low in energy, it might be exhaustion.
● Seek professional and peer support. Help is available. There are groups specifically devoted to supporting the mental health of new dads. Check out your local family resource centre.
If your life as a new dad isn't what you expected, that's okay. Whatever fatherhood looks like for you, being comfortable with your role as a dad and taking care of your mental health will help you be a source of strength and support in your new family.
● Bellies to Babies antenatal and postnatal classes, baby massage courses and baby and infant first aid courses, 2087 Pakowhai Rd, Hawke's Bay, 022 637 0624. https://www.hbantenatal-classes.co.nz/
Medical disclaimer: This page is for educational and informational purposes only and may not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by physicians.
Where to get help
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
Or if you need to talk to someone else:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or online chat.
• Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757
• Samaritans: 0800 726 666.